Lillie Hitchcock Coit: Eccentric Lady and Honorary San Francisco Firefighter


Lillie Hitchcock Coit was an eccentric lady of San Francisco and an honorary firefighter. She gambled, bet on horses, and was engaged to two men at the same time.

A Child in a Blazing San Hotel

Lillie Hitchcock Coit was brought to San Francisco, California by her physician father in the spring of 1851. At the time, she was seven years old. Two days before Christmas Lillie gained some firsthand experience about early San Francisco’s many fires. On that blazing day, Lillie was rescued from an upper floor of the hotel where she and her father were staying but, thanks to a fireman from Knickerbocker Number Five, Lillie was unharmed.

Soon after this rescue Lillie could be seen at other fires as she cheered her “hero firemen” on. It was not long before Number Five considered the child their “unofficial mascot.”

Lillie not a Wallflower

Lillie Hitchcock wasn’t considered a beauty but was recognized as being intelligent and quick-witted. She was also an “accomplished singer, dancer and guitarist.” And by the age of eighteen she was the “undisputed belle of San Francisco.” This may have been due in part to the $60,000 and property she had inherited from her grandfather.

Civil War Halts Romance

Also by the age of eighteen, Lillie was in love. The object of her affection was the “wealthy and handsome” Howard Coit. However, the American Civil War tore her away, for a time, from her beloved San Francisco, California and from Howard Coit.

Lillie’s mother was a Southern sympathizer and whisked herself and her daughter off to the safety of Europe while America was in its turmoil.

First Woman Honorary Firefighter in America

Lillie returned to America, and San Francisco, before the Civil War ended. Once she was home she discovered that her “City by the Bay” had not forgotten her. Neither had her Knickerbocker Number Five fire station forgotten her. They presented her with a certificate of membership. This made her the only woman in the United States to belong to a volunteer fire station. It was hinted that Lillie honored this membership by having the number 5 embroidered on her underwear.

Engaged to two Men – At the Same Time!

Lillie Coit may have now become an honorary firefighter but she was also considered a “coquette.” It is believed that at one time she was engaged to two men at the same time. To keep the situation even, she wore both men’s engagement rings, alternating them daily. However, in spite of dozens of men seeking her favors, Lillie still clung to her old “resolve to marry Howard Coit.”